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Published on November 21, 2019

Using Good Stress to Improve Your Well-Being

Everyone experiences stress. It’s part of life. We stress over our jobs, our families, our social lives, our education, our health, our finances – the list could go on and on. It seems that everyone is on a never-ending quest to eliminate stress from their lives. Would a completely stress-free life be a good thing? Surprisingly, the answer is no – some stress is good stress.

Good stress or eustress is temporary worry and tension that accompanies challenging situations or activities that remain within our abilities to handle. Think of a series of concentric circles, like a target. The first is your “comfort zone” – here there’s no stress because you are fully confident that you can succeed at anything that crops up. Now imagine another circle beyond the first, which represents your “capability zone” – you’re out of your comfort zone, so you’ll experience stress, but expectations of what you can manage are realistic. Beyond your capability zone is where you experience negative stress or distress – so far out of your comfort zone that your abilities no longer match what’s needed to face a particular challenge. The limits for each of these zones are different for everyone. Where public speaking or riding a roller coaster might be fun activities that create a buzz of excitement for one person, they may be terrors for someone else, who would be overwhelmed with distress if they attempted them.

The key is finding that sweet spot where you can step out of your comfort zone in order to feel the satisfaction of successfully learning a new skill or overcoming a challenge without slipping into negative stress.

Eustress has a number of benefits, particularly for well-being in general:

  • It’s motivating and energizing
  • It feels exciting and creates a sense of satisfaction
  • It drives improvements in abilities by pushing us to learn
  • It helps to create confidence and self-esteem
  • It builds resilience

On the other hand, the effects of distress are harmful, especially when experienced chronically. Negative stress:

  • Decreases our ability to focus and get things done
  • Make us more susceptible to both mental and physical illnesses
  • Can cause physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, muscle pains, and both sleep and digestive problems
  • Can make us more likely to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or tobacco

Stress is not inherently bad, but in order to maximize good stress in your life, there are three key behaviors to strive for.

  1. Perspective – whether a particular stressor falls in your capability zone or beyond can be influenced by your perspective of the situation. Many things that cause us stress we perceive as threats. But if instead we’re able to think of some of these “threats” as challenges to overcome and learn from, we can convert distress into eustress.
  2. Limitations – be aware of your limits and stand up for them. Knowing the bounds of your comfort and capability zones enables you to say no to tasks and activities that will cause you negative stress.
  3. Balance – maintaining balance among the stressors in your life is key. It’s nearly impossible to live without any stress in our lives. And even though eustress is “good stress,” you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to relax and recharge free of stress – sometimes it’s more than okay to stay in your “comfort zone.”

You also can take a free, confidential screening to learn more about your well-being. The screening measures your psychological well-being at a particular point in time, so you can retake the screening to check in with yourself regularly.

If you feel that negative stress is affecting your life and you are struggling to manage it effectively, reach out and ask for help from the Bryan Counseling Center or the Bryan Independence Center.

Bryan Counseling Center 402-481-5991 - bryanhealth.com/services/counseling-mental-health/

Bryan Independence Center 402-481-5268 bryanhealth.com/services/alcohol-drug-treatment/

If in immediate crisis call 911, go to the nearest emergency department, or call the national suicide crisis line at 1-800-273-8255. Bryan Medical Center West Campus has a mental health emergency department available 24/7 for crisis situations to determine if hospitalization is needed.

dave miers

About Dr. Dave Miers

Dave Miers, PhD, is the counseling and program development manager for mental health services at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb.

He helped establish the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition in 1999 and chaired/co-chaired this Coalition until 2017. He currently serves on the Board of Directors. Dr. Miers is a member of the leadership group for the Lincoln/Lancaster County Suicide Prevention Coalition. Dr. Miers has published research and co-authored a chapter in the Routledge International Handbook of Clinical Suicide Research focusing on family survivors of a child suicide. Dr. Miers helped develop the Lincoln Lancaster Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) team in Lincoln, Neb. He also helped develop other LOSS teams in Nebraska and is active with LOSS team development on a national level.

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